Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Hold the Salt

Moving a bit further afield than usual … The approach to Lake Placid from the east takes you along Route 73 and through a high, beautiful pass that runs along the Cascade Lakes and below the peaks of Pitchoff, Porter and Cascade mountains. As you drive (if I remember correctly), the peak of Mount Marcy comes in and out of view beyond the closer mountains. It was while driving through the Cascades late at night in 1980 that I saw a bobcat for the first and only time. In winter, the Cascades are wild and beautiful and forbidding. The wind scours the snow off the frozen lakes and spreads it in drifts across the road, and once on my way into Lake Placid I was forced to backtrack through Keene, Upper Jay, and Wilmington when I came upon a tractor-trailer that had skidded in the snow and landed on its side across the road.

Paper birches grow on the very steep slopes beyond the lakes. In 1978, ’79 and ’80, when I lived there, paper birches grew on the margin of land between the road and the lakes as well. But at some point in the 1980s, we noticed that the birches between the lake and the road were dying. It turns out that the state DOT, which uses an average of 48 tons of salt per mile of road statewide in winter, has been dumping 105 tons per mile along the two miles of Route 73 in the Cascades. Chloride levels in the lakes are 100 times higher than expected in Adirondack Lakes.

A team of scientists from Clarkson College are studying it, and the Associated Press has a good account of what’s going on.


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